GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP – The word ‘dodgeball’ usually makes people think of a fun sport in elementary school gym class, or perhaps a 2004 comedy called ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’.
But dodgeball is a serious and growing sport with a US national team.
The USA Dodgeball Premier Tour held an event at the University of Stockton Athletic Center on Saturday. Six matches were sometimes played at once. The event featured around 150 players, all wearing colorful uniforms. Many players have traveled hundreds of miles to be there.
It always seemed like fun and no one got upset about being hit.
Matches were 6v6 and lasted eight minutes. There were three divisions: Open 8.5 (Mostly men. The ball is 8.5 inches in diameter.), Women’s No-sting (with a smaller, softer ball), and Coed No-sting (three men and three women in each team). After the preliminary round robin in the morning, the divisions played knockout matches in the afternoon.
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The women’s champion was Envy, from Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Anarchy, with members from Boston, San Diego, Dallas and Maryland, won the 8.5 Open and also won the Coed Division.
John Hillan, 34, and his wife Leah Hankins, 33, play for Willows Wreck, a 15-man team that traveled 4.5 hours from Lexington Park, Maryland. Hillan was part of the US national team in 2014.
“I think it’s a lot of fun, but there’s more to it than you think,” Hillan said, adding his team practices every Thursday. “It’s a unique sport, and I’ve been playing it for about 17 years. I went to (Las) Vegas to gamble. Sometimes it hurts (game 8.5) if you get hit in the face.
Hankins didn’t care about the long trip.
“This is our first trip to Atlantic City. We’re staying there right now,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the boardwalk and hit the beach.”
Brothers Daniel and Zach Fernald both played dodgeball at the University of Maryland. They now play for DMV Grizzlies (DMV an acronym for DC, Maryland and Virginia. Teammates came from different states on multiple teams.
“I played baseball (in high school), but there weren’t a lot of opportunities to do that in Maryland,” 22-year-old Daniel Fernald said. “I started out in dodgeball. It’s a club, but we’ve played teams from all over the country, like Ohio State, Michigan State, James Madison, Penn State. It’s a growing sport. There’s has about 30 schools that have it, and it’s only going to get bigger.
Tama Anoai, 24, of Allentown, Pa., played for the seven-man Goat.
“I’ve been playing since 2014,” Anoai said. “I played baseball for four years in high school and started three years as a catcher. It helps me with dodgeball because it helps me see the ball slow down and I’m able to throw. Dodgeball is tough, not easy. It’s not a recreational (school) sport. It requires teamwork and hand-eye coordination.
Kate Kerins, of Boston, and Sean McMahon, of Middletown, Connecticut, were the co-directors of the event, and both also played as a team.
“People from different sporting backgrounds play this sport,” said Kerins, 34.
McMahon, 26, says he is doing what he can to develop the sport. In addition to his directorial duties, he starred for Shred.
“It’s like a gift to do this, and to play too,” McMahon said. “It’s a very big sport, and unlike other sports, everyone on the team is equally valuable. It’s a like-minded sport where you make friends for life.
“The movie ‘Dodgeball’ was the best and the worst for the sport,” he added. “The jokes weren’t good, but they sparked interest. You know what they say: no publicity is bad publicity.